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Growing Israeli settler violence and army raids in the West Bank raise tensions

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For weeks, the world's attention has been on Gaza, Israel's war with Hamas and the humanitarian crisis for Palestinians caught in the fighting. Many Palestinians say tensions are also threatening to boil over in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinians and some Israelis say that army raids, violence by Israeli settlers and growing economic crisis could lead to another intifada, or uprising. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOATS BLEATING)

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: On a rugged, windswept hill near the West Bank city of Jericho, a Bedouin shepherd named Jamal Mlahiat points past his goat pens to the horizon.

JAMAL MLAHIAT: (Speaking Arabic).

MANN: "The settlers come from the hills around the Jericho Valley," Mlahiat says. "They attack our homes in the middle of the night." This is an area Israelis and Palestinians have disputed for decades. It's controlled by the Israeli military. Israel has built and expanded settlements here. And recent right-wing governments have backed them. Mlahiat says since the war with Hamas began in Gaza after October 7, settler violence grew worse.

MLAHIAT: (Speaking Arabic).

MANN: "We are peaceful people. I lived with Jews for over 40 years," Mlahiat says. "But now I realize the Israeli government has empowered these settlers, and they do not want peace." The U.S. State Department recently said it will start banning Israeli extremists in the West Bank from getting U.S. visas. Israel defended the settlers, saying 99% are law-abiding and peaceful, but clashes between settlers and Palestinians aren't the only flashpoints here. In recent weeks, Israel has stopped Palestinians from working inside Israel, crippling the West Bank's economy. And Israel's army has carved up Palestinian territory with a confusing maze of roadblocks apparent to anyone passing through.

I'm at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Jericho. And we have been here for over two hours. It's just really confusing. It's hard to know who's supposed to go or when.

That kind of daily disruption is frustrating, Palestinians say, and humiliating in a territory they say is supposed to be theirs.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALL TO PRAYER)

MANN: Mohamed Issa is 27 years old, a barber in the Kalandia refugee camp near Jerusalem, in Ramallah. On the door of his shop is a photograph of a cousin he says was killed, martyred, Issa says, by Israeli soldiers.

MOHAMED ISSA: (Speaking Arabic).

MANN: He says, "Israeli soldiers come to the densely populated district many nights heavily armed, provoking confrontations with Palestinians." "They come here to intimidate us and to kill," he says. Israeli officials say raids, arrests and other military operations are necessary to prevent further violence against Israelis, like the October 7 attack. After Palestinian militants from the West Bank killed three Israelis last month at a bus stop in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a tough response.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

MANN: "Everyone who hurts us will either be in the grave or in prison," Netanyahu said, referring to militants in Gaza and the West Bank. But Israeli raids here often take the lives of civilians. The United Nations says since October 7, 256 Palestinians, including 67 teens and younger children, have been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

SAMAR BARGHOUTHI: It is dangerous, actually.

MANN: Samar Barghouthi is an economist in Ramallah who heads an organization of Palestinian farmers. He says Israel's crackdown in the West Bank, combined with Palestinian anger over the war in Gaza, is pushing people toward a third intifada, or uprising.

BARGHOUTHI: Yes. The anger will be converted to political activities and even military activities.

MANN: Roy Yellin agrees. He was with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. He fears tough Israeli government policies after October 7 and tolerance of settler violence will lead to another full-scale crisis.

ROY YELLIN: The West Bank right now is like a pressure cooker that is about to explode. Not enough is done in order to prevent that slide into another front of violence also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

MANN: Yellin and others say the prospect of more violence and a wider humanitarian disaster for Palestinians in the West Bank is grim in itself. They also say Israel could wind up facing a full-scale conflict here, while also battling Hamas in Gaza.

Brian Mann, NPR News, Ramallah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.